Top Covid-19 expert hints at how China may return to 'normality'

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) – China’s top health expert identified two conditions for the country to return to “normality” and maintained that the authorities should stick to their zero-Covid-19 policy in battling the Omicron variant, the state-backed Global Times reported.

Prerequisites for getting back to normal include fatalities from Covid-19 needing to fall to a rate of 0.1 per cent similar to influenza’s, said Dr Zhong Nanshan, who heads China’s Covid-19 task force, according to the newspaper. That’s still a far target, as the global death rate stands at over 1.9 per cent.

The virus’s reproduction rate – a measure of how many people one patient can transmit the virus to – also needs to remain within a range of 1 to 1.5, according to Dr Zhong.

To reach those goals, China needs to fully vaccinate its population to establish herd immunity to Covid-19, normalise prevention and control in communities and develop therapeutic drugs, Dr Zhong said in a speech to the Greater Bay Area Vaccine Summit over the weekend, the newspaper said.

The authorities should also adhere to their Covid-zero policy – of which they remain one of the world’s last holdouts – as it battles a new, contagious variant, he said.

“We should apply this dynamic Covid-zero approach and adopt further precise prevention and control measures,” said Dr Zhong, a pulmonologist. “We are not afraid of the Omicron variant.”

It’s one of the first times Chinese officials have publicly elaborated on specific conditions for a potential reopening of the country, with the authorities doubling down on increasingly strict measures in recent months to contain the widest Covid-19 outbreak since the virus first emerged.

If China were to reopen in a similar manner to the United States and abandon Covid-zero, it might face a colossal outbreak on a scale beyond anything any other country has seen, according to a November study published by Peking University.

Herd immunity could theoretically be reached if at least 80 per cent to 85 per cent was vaccinated, Dr Zhong said in October.

He said at the time that he expected China’s rate to exceed 80 per cent by year-end, but that the country needed to make efforts to develop more vaccines and reinforce immunisation as the shots’ effectiveness drops significantly after six months of vaccination.

Some 79 per cent of China’s 1.4 billion people have been fully inoculated, according to numbers provided by the National Health Commission.

“The Delta variant outbreak in Guangzhou and Nanjing earlier this year saw a zero death rate, which was largely helped by vaccination,” Dr Zhong said in his weekend comments, according to the Global Times.

“The problem now is to reinforce vaccination for elder people, especially for people over 70 years old.”

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